It is a hot August day in Alushta, a popular beach resort on the scenic Crimean coast set against a magnificent backdrop of green and rugged mountains climbing to 5,000 feet. Tens of thousands of vacationers from across the former Soviet Union are strolling along the town's tightly packed Naberejnaya (seaside promenade) in minimal states of dress, plunking down on blankets on adjacent pebbly beaches and swimming in the clear and limpid waters of the Black Sea.
Overall, the Alushta waterfront is a festive "anything goes" sort of scene with an over-the-top, almost Felliniesque, quality.
Alushta means "Place of Winds" in ancient Greek, and because it sits in a bowl-like valley with the wind whipping down from a mountain pass about seven miles away, the town has a slightly cooler, decidedly less humid climate than Yalta.
The principle pleasure of Alushta is, of course, the sea, and the Black Sea is divine on a hot summer day — unexpectedly clear, calm and deliciously cool. A visitor has a choice of swimming at the beach attached to his or her hotel or sanatorium, or paying a fee of about a dollar to swim at one of a number of public beaches. Like the Mediterranean, the limpid Black Sea is a swimmer's — not a wave rider's — sea.
Alushta has never been known for world class dining, but during the last year or two, some upscale restaurants have sprung up to serve the "new Russian" clientele. One is the Dorado Fish Restaurant (at the far western end of the Nabarejnya), which is attached to the sleek new More (Sea) resort. Diners on a third floor outdoor terrace overlooking the sea are treated to linen table cloths, impeccable service and an extensive list of Crimean and Georgian wines.
There is so much to do and see in Crimea that any visitor who is here for less than a month will have to make hard choices. For those who love nature, trekking in the rugged backcountry is strongly recommended. Just up the mountain from the semi-tropical languor of Alushta is the Valley of the Ghosts, a surreal badlands landscape of giant stone pillars that look like they might have been dropped from the sky by alien visitors, but were in fact sculpted by wind erosion. The Valley of the Ghosts and Mount Demerdzhi, which towers above it, can be toured on horseback as well as on foot. From atop nearby Demerdzhi, whose Tatar name means "Blacksmith's mountain," a reference to the deep red hue it takes during the afternoon hours, there is a sublime view over rock-strewn mountainsides, verdant vineyards sloping down to Alushta far below and a grand sweep of the Black Sea coast beyond.